A young film editor from Chicago asked me recently if there are any things that I always do when I go to Paris. We were sitting next to each other at a dinner in Paris discussing the fact it was her first trip to Paris and my tenth.
The question has intrigued me ever since.
While some problems exist with this metaphor, visiting Paris is a bit like peeling an onion. I think one needs to see all the big major tourist destinations—Eiffel Tour, Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elyse’es, Golden Triangle, major neighborhoods and their cafes. These places are the outer layers of the onion.
Ignoring the fact onions sting, peeling the middle is visiting the smaller more focused museums. Can you believe there are more than 200 museums in Paris? One can spend a lot of time just working their way through them. I try to get to one new one each trip. Exploring the many charming residential neighborhoods, parks, markets, the less well known shopping and the flea markets can keep the traveler happily occupied for days, weeks, maybe months.
At the center of the onion are the more unusual stuff — catacombs, canal trips, viaducts, neighborhoods that tourists don’t go. I believe in getting to that part of the onion.
So, my advice to her was first to see the major stuff and then work her way through to the more obscure destinations. Not hard to come up with the ten top destinations. Most guidebooks have them.
But, back to her original question about what do I always do? As I thought about it I decided I would lump my “must dos” into categories.
Here are my favorite things to do in Paris:
1. I always go TO the Louvre. Note: I didn’t say I always go IN the Louvre.
Sometimes I do, but most times my visit is simply to the main courtyard where the I.M.Pei designed Pyramid is surrounded with the fabulous old Beaux Arts structure, once home to the king of France. It’s grand. It’s gorgeous and I Love seeing these structures in different light at different times of day. I always take photos, trying to capture a new viewpoint, an unusual reflection or something fresh. The possibilities are endless.
2. I love doing something connected to water.
Usually it is a ride on the Batobus, savoring the view of the City of Lights from the water. It’s a different perspective. Some times we do the very touristy dinner tour on the Seine, marveling with folks all over the world that silly but magical moment when the Eiffel Tower Twinkles. On this last trip we spent a morning on the Canal Saint Martin. I’d do that again.
Marvelous, visual tasty wonderful food. Each trip we search out a new market, a street of food shops or the food department in a grand department store. Paris is really all about food. Looking at the food. Buying the food. Marveling the presentation whether the simple vertical chicken roasters to the La Grand Epicerie…… Rue Cler to Rue Montorgeuil……. Endless delicious possibilities. Don’t forget the wine.
4. The Marais.
It’s my fav. Always go there…..sometimes to eat on Rue Du Tresor, a tiny little one block street with quiet outdoor cafes. Most times to sit on the grass on Place des Vosges. Shopping all the quaint shops in the area with their quirky hours and mix of merchandise. Watching the mix of people. It’s quite diverse. I always take a stroll down the main street of the nearby Ile Sainte Louis as well. I think it is charming and I love imagining what this was like decades ago. And not too far from the Marais or Ile Sainte Louis is Sainte Chapelle where a new “favorite thing to do” is to attend a concert.
5. A new addition to my “must do” is to eat at roof top restaurants.
It is easy to eat on the street at cafes, in Bistros and, well, everywhere, but the new challenge is to find roof top eateries. Since Paris has height restrictions for buildings (what makes it so charming) a roof top restaurant has the advantage of being “above it all but not too far.” So far I have enjoyed lunches and dinners at Georges at the Pompidou and Les Ombres perched on top of the Branly right below the Eiffel tower. Have had a friend recommend the restaurant at the Arabic Institute for the next trip.